the importance of self-care in mental health

Self-Care and Mental Health

Table of Contents

The mental health of our country has struggled greatly over the past couple of years. The pandemic wreaked havoc on the systems our society uses to keep things running smoothly; things such as schools, hospitals, libraries, parks, and other locations used for public gatherings. 

We were all forced to just stop everything and isolate ourselves. 

It will take several years for us to fully understand just how much the pandemic and its ensuing shutdowns and disruptions to society affected us all.  

There was a great deal of loss. People lost loved ones to the Covid-19 virus. They lost their jobs. They lost their support systems and a sense of community. People lost friendships and relationships over disagreements over politics and policies. 

For countless months there was a sense of unknowing – a constant feeling of never fully comprehending exactly what was going on, or what was going to happen next, making the loss of a normal routine feel particularly intense. 

Yes, we lost our routines. Our daily routines help us feel grounded and secure. A feeling of security is vital to our mental health.

It seems that life is slowly but surely returning to a “new normal”. Playgrounds are filling up with laughing children, graduation ceremonies are being held, restaurants are at full capacity, and families are reuniting with loved ones they haven’t seen in months or even years.

And perhaps the best new normal of all – people are speaking more openly and honestly about their mental health, and they’re prioritizing self-care.

Proper treatment of anxiety disorders and clinical depression and the implementation of tools to manage anxiety and depression at work can help to reduce these feelings within the workplace³. In some instances, especially when proper treatment and the implementation of tools have failed to create a better workspace, it may be in an employee’s best interest to find a new job⁴.

A Little Bit About Mental Health

Mental health is a really big topic. It encompasses so much, and it means something a little different to each individual. We all have different needs that must be met in order for us to thrive and reach our highest potential.

Mental health refers to our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. Our mental health affects how we think, how we feel, and how we act. It plays a big part in how we manage our daily lives, how we handle stress, how we relate to others and the choices that we make.

Mental health is important throughout our lifetime. From childhood, through adolescence, and well into and through adulthood, our mental health plays a starring role in how we feel, and therefore how we interact with the world around us. 

Mental health is not a fixed permanent state. It exists on a spectrum, and it changes constantly. Our circumstances change, our moods change, our priorities change, and our mental health changes right along with those things. 

We are constantly acclimating to what is happening around us and inside of us, especially during tumultuous times such as the ones we are experiencing right now. 

There is a tendency to place more importance on our mental health during times of difficulty or stress. This is well and necessary of course. We should absolutely pay attention to our mental health when we’re struggling. It’s important to be able to reach out for help and find new ways of coping when we are overwhelmed, or not managing as well as we could be.

However, we should be tending to our mental health during good times as well. We want to keep feeling good, right? And that takes work. This is why self-care is so important, during the good times as well as during times of unusual stress and challenge.

A Little Bit About Self-Care

Self-care is not just about bubble baths and dark chocolate – not that there’s anything wrong with those things! In fact, taking the time to enjoy simple pleasures and indulgences is a very important part of self-care.

But that is just a small part. Self-care is about taking the time to do the things that help you maintain your mental and physical health at all times (not just during times of stress and worry). And just like mental health, that means something a little bit different for everybody.

There is not a “one-size-fits-all” self-care plan for everybody, just like there isn’t a fixed state for optimal mental health. It takes time and practice, and a little bit of experimentation to find the best mode of self-care for you. 

Once you find what works for you, what keeps you feeling your best and participating most actively in your own life, the trick is to stick to the self-care routines that work, even (especially!) when life gets challenging.

Signs of Mental Health Struggles

Life is hectic. We live in a culture that is busy all the time. Computers and smartphones have connected us to everything and everyone 24/7. We are receiving and processing information constantly.

It can be exhausting, even if we’re unaware of it, simply because we’ve become used to having screens in front of us for hours upon hours every single day. 

We have families to take care of, careers to cultivate, bills to pay, groceries to buy, and the list goes on and on. Who has time to worry about mental health?

Here’s the thing. The more we pay attention to and tend to our mental health, the easier it becomes to navigate our demanding schedules and life goals. The better we feel emotionally, mentally, and physically, the less likely we are to be poorly affected by the stressors we will inevitably face.

Isn’t it normal to feel busy and stressed and tired? Sure, to some extent. Let’s face it, life is challenging even in the best of times. You shouldn’t feel this way all the time though, and certainly not to the point where your mental health is declining and you’re not enjoying life.  

If your mental health is slipping such that your grades, or your job performance, or your relationships are suffering, then it’s time to take action before some sort of crisis occurs. Things don’t have to get absolutely terrible before they can get better.

Symptoms of Mental Health Issues

If you feel like hurting yourself or others, please reach out for help right away. Call a doctor, a trusted friend, or a family member. If you don’t have anyone to call, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24/7 at 800-273-8255

If you are not in immediate danger or crisis, but feel like you may be struggling more than necessary, here are some signs to look for (in yourself or a loved one) that may indicate that your mental health is in need of some extra attention:

is perfectly normal occasionally. But persistent anxiety can be a sign of a mental health disorder if it interferes with your sleep or daily life. Symptoms of anxiety can include heart palpitations, shortness of breath, headache, restlessness, or racing thoughts.

is also completely normal – if something bad has happened. But feeling sad or depressed (or irritable) for several weeks at a time or more, or lacking in motivation or energy is a sign of depression or other mental health issues, and should be addressed.

that are sudden, dramatic, or seemingly out of nowhere can be a symptom of extreme mental distress or illness. 

that last more than a week or two can be a symptom of anxiety, depression, or substance abuse. Sleeping too much or too little for long periods of time can be a symptom of mental health challenges, and can also exacerbate pre-existing issues.

If you’re drinking more than usual or feeling the negative effects of drinking more often, you may be struggling with alcohol abuse disorder (AUD). If you are taking medication other than what is prescribed, you may be suffering from substance abuse. Substance abuse can be a sign of a mental health problem, a problem in and of itself, and can also intensify pre-existing issues.

Negative self-talk is not good for us. Words are powerful, even (especially) when they’re directed at ourselves. Relentless thoughts of “I’m a failure” or “I am worthless” can be signs of depression or other mental health problems. You likely wouldn’t say those things to another person; if you’re constantly saying them to yourself, and believing them, then you deserve to change those thoughts to something more positive, and you may need some help doing so.

occur naturally and subtly all the time. But if you or someone you care for is acting drastically out of character, or feeling more negative, or angry, or sad all at once, it is time to stop and take a look at your mental health. Feelings fluctuate constantly of course, but sudden and drastic changes can be a sign of something more serious.

Mental health is fluid. It is constantly changing, shifting, and adapting to both internal and external stimuli and circumstances. This is why it’s important to have at least some awareness of your mental health at all times.

Life is busy and challenging and sometimes overwhelming. It can be easy to remain unaware of those subtle shifts and changes in your mental health until suddenly they’re not so subtle anymore, and you find yourself struggling. 

If you’ve got just one finger on the pulse of your mental health at all times, it becomes more natural to implement positive changes and practices before things get out of hand and your suffering becomes unmanageable.

What Does Self-Care Look Like?

There are numerous definitions and descriptions of self-care, and this one sums it up quite nicely; self-care is “…a multidimensional, multifaceted process of purposeful engagement in strategies that promote healthy functioning and enhance well-being” (8).

One of the most important aspects of self-care is that it is purposeful. It is a means of taking control of your own well-being, mentally, emotionally, and physically. In a world full of turmoil and chaos, a solid self-care regimen gives you the power to maintain your calm in the presence of a storm. 

Your self-care is yours. You know yourself better than anyone else does, and what works for you may not work for everyone else, and vice versa.

Here is a guide for tailoring your very own self-care routine. There may be things listed that don’t apply to your situation, and there may be things missing from this guide that could benefit you. 

Creating a self-care regimen takes practice and a willingness to try something new.

Physical Self-Care

The body and mind are connected. You need to eat nutritious foods, get enough quality sleep, and exercise regularly to keep your heart, lungs, and brain functioning optimally


is a necessary fuel for the body (and mind!), and the entire process of eating can be made into a great self-care routine.

Attending local Farmer’s Markets to buy fresh produce gets you out into the fresh air and sunshine, and you may meet like-minded people and make new connections. 

Cooking in itself can be very calming and centering, and the satisfaction of creating a satisfying meal out of simple ingredients feels very rewarding.

Getting enough sleep

is imperative to our physical and mental health. If sleep is something you struggle with, consider creating some self-care rituals around that. 

Yoga and meditation are great tools for helping you relax enough to feel sleepy. Many people like using essential oils or incense in order to create a more relaxing atmosphere. Hot showers and bubble baths are other things to try for more restful sleep. 

Put away your phones and computers at least an hour before bed. Take it a step further, and leave your phones in another room at night.

All of these are just suggestions, but they are wonderful starting points for not only helping you to sleep better but learning how to design self-care rituals that are tailor-made just for you.


can be life-changing! Not only is it good for your body and physical health in general, but it produces endorphins and dopamine, which are neurotransmitters that make you feel good mentally and emotionally as well. 

You don’t need to train for a marathon in order to get adequate exercise. Just 20-30 minutes, 3-4 days a week can be transformative in improving your mental health. 

Just the ritual of a regular exercise routine can make you feel good. Carving out time just for you is a great example of self-care.

Brisk walks around the neighborhood, low-intensity bike rides, a swim at your local pool – these are all accessible forms of exercise that (when practiced regularly) will make you feel better, physically and mentally.

Social Self-Care

Feeling connected to other human beings is key to your emotional well-being. Some people are more introverted than others, but even introverted people need socialization. It’s just a matter of how much and how often.

Life is busy, and we don’t all have a ton of time to devote to socializing. 

However, prioritizing our relationships with our friends and family who mean the most to us not only feels good in the moment, but it builds trust, respect, and familiarity within those relationships so that we have people to turn to when things become difficult. And people to celebrate with when things are wonderful!

Mental Self-Care

Our brains need exercise too! Learning something new can be invigorating. Overcoming mental challenges can be very satisfying (and releases dopamine, which feels good!). 

You don’t need to go get a Ph.D. in order to stimulate your brain, but consider reading a book next time you feel like watching TV. If you enjoy playing games on your phone, download a crossword game or another word puzzle game. 

Mental stimulation keeps your brain active, and when your brain is regularly active it is easier to make decisions, solve problems, and work through emotional difficulties. 

Ask yourself, do I participate in activities that stimulate my mind?

Spiritual Self-Care

Spirituality isn’t necessarily about religion or church, although for many people, it absolutely is. Spirituality is about finding some sort of connection with the universe. A deeper meaning than just the humdrum of day-to-day living.

Many people find their spirituality in nature. Some find it in the practices of Yoga or Meditation. It’s about feeling centered, grounded, a part of something bigger than just yourself. 

If this concept is difficult for you, think of a place or activity that makes you feel like you’re on the same wavelength as the whole world.

Go to the ocean and listen to the waves. Pick up a paintbrush and see what lands on the canvas. Try a guided mediation or a yoga class. The idea is to nurture your spirit.

Emotional Self-Care

Emotions are a part of life. They come and go constantly, the good and the bad ones. Learning to process your emotions productively may take a lifetime, but the better you become at this the better your mental health will be.

Emotions are temporary. Sometimes we make decisions based on emotions, such as yelling at a person when they make us feel angry. We can make good decisions based on positive emotions as well, such as complimenting a stranger when we are feeling happy and generous.

Learn about your emotions. Find words to describe how you feel in your body when you’re sad, angry, joyful, or serene. Naming our emotions, and understanding the way we react to them is part of the process of emotional self-care.

If your emotions are overwhelming to you, talk to someone. Write in a journal. Consider talk therapy if you feel like you’re at a loss for how to deal with your emotions. Becoming familiar with our emotions and how we react to them is wonderful self-care, and very beneficial for your overall mental health.

Self-Care is a Continuous Process, Not a Destination

You won’t come up with the perfect self-care plan overnight. In fact, your self-care regimen will change many times throughout your life.

Consider what your stressors are right now. 

Are you overwhelmed with school and work? Try meditating for 15 minutes each morning to center yourself.

Is it a little too difficult getting up the stairs each day? Maybe 20 minutes of moderate exercise 3 times a week is a good place to start.

Are you arguing with your spouse more often? Maybe it’s time to talk to a therapist together or carve out a specific time each week for the two of you to sit down and talk openly and honestly. 

You know what your personal struggles are. And when it comes to internal struggles, you have to be the one who initiates solutions to alleviate them. 

That’s what self-care is all about; putting systems in place so that you are not just existing, not just surviving, not just getting through the day, but thriving. You deserve to thrive.